The United States installed more new wind power capacity last year than any other country, but its total wind power base was still less than half of Germany's, experts said on Tuesday.

The United States installed about 2,400 megawatts of wind power last year, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. That is about the amount produced by five large power plants.

Wind power sales have become a billion-dollar industry to companies such as GE Energy, a unit of General Electric Co. (GE), but wind still makes up only a tiny amount of total electricity production. The United States got less than 1 percent of its electricity from wind in 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Wind power emits virtually no greenhouse gases, which is one factor helping it grow faster than any other alternative energy. "By 2010, wind energy alone will save enough greenhouse gas emissions to meet one third of the European Union's Kyoto obligations," said Christian Kjaer, policy director for the European Wind Energy Association.

Germany installed 1,810 MW of wind power last year.

U.S. incentives including a three-year tax credit passed by Congress before the credit expired helped boost installations, a U.S. industry group said.

"Thanks to Congress's extending the wind energy production credit...the wind industry is looking forward to several record-breaking years in a row," Randall Swisher, the director of the American Wind Energy Association, said in a statement.

Bill Lese, the managing director of venture capital firm Braemar Energy Ventures in New York, said wind power is the most promising alternative electricity producer in the world's top energy consumer, the United States.

But so much money is going into making coal, the No. 1 U.S. fuel for electricity, burn more efficiently, that "wind is not going to replace coal any time soon," he said.

Critics also say that growth of the sector could be limited in the future because wind power only produces electricity when the wind blows.

The world's second largest energy consumer, China, installed 500 MW of new wind power last year, ahead of a renewable energy law that went into effect last month.

"According to the list of approved projects and those under construction, 2,000 MW of wind capacity could be installed by the end of 2006. The goal for wind power in China by the end of 2010 is 5,000 MW," Li Junfeng of the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association said in a statement.

Total new global installed wind power was 11,800 MW last year, a rise of 43.4 percent over the previous year, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.

Below, in MW, were the world's leaders in installing new wind power last year.

United States 2,430

Germany 1,810

Spain 1,760

India 1,430

Portugal 500

Below are the world's leaders in total installed wind power in MW.

Germany 18,440

Spain 10,030

United States 9,150

India 4.430

Denmark 3,120